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Optimizing For Mobile Search In 2016: A Continuous Process
Mobile is continuing to grow, so how can you win in mobile search this coming year? Columnist Jim Yu has some advice.
The growth of mobile has become undeniable. The Google mobile-friendly algorithm update of April 2015 set off a firestorm of activity as sites struggled at the last minute to ensure that their pages were compatible with mobile.
In 2016, sites will need to transition their mindsets from being just mobile-compatible to being mobile-optimized.
Mobile now represents an impressive amount of online traffic. In 2015, it surpassed desktop for Google searches worldwide. Our own research at BrightEdge also indicated that by Q3 of 2014, purchases made on mobile had nearly the same average order size as those made on desktop. People are using mobile for their day-to-day internet needs, from browsing to shopping.
As we prepare to head into 2016, this mobile trend will only dominate more of the online activity of consumers. For brands to cope with this shift, they must be optimized for people using their smartphones and other mobile devices.
The Importance Of Mobile In Modern Culture
The shift toward mobile will continue to strengthen as we head into 2016. Smartphones are expected to reach 90 percent market penetration in the US and the UK by 2016, which means that your customers are going to increasingly use these devices to connect with their friends and learn about the brands with which they are considering doing business.
Not only is the smartphone market itself growing, but the popularity of using these devices to make purchases is also increasing tremendously.
Mobile commerce is increasing 300 times faster than e-commerce and is expected to show growth of 42 percent between 2013 and 2016. Customers are using their devices to make purchases whenever and wherever they might be.
The incredible mobile revolution has also begun to be reflected in ad spend. Mobile ad spending is projected to top $100 billion in 2016, accounting for more than 50 percent of all digital ads for the first time. Many brands have begun to recognize the importance of mobile when it comes to connecting with customers.
The struggle that many are having, however, is understanding the difference between creating mobile-friendly websites and ads and optimizing them for what mobile consumers want to see and how they behave.
Behavior differs between desktop and mobile devices, and it is worth exploring these differences to better provide for consumers. Mobile optimization means more than taking a desktop-optimized site and strategy and making it fit onto a mobile screen.
Optimizing For Mobile Versus Desktop
The critical foundation for any mobile optimization project is ensuring that the site itself has been configured properly. One in four websites has not been designed to reach the mobile audience.
Google has put out its own guidebook for brands ready to create a usable and attractive mobile site. Use those guidelines to make sure that the site is ready for the influx of mobile users that 2016 will likely bring.
Optimizing a website for mobile also requires developing a keen understanding of user behavior. For example, at first glance, it might seem as though mobile devices have incredibly low conversion rates. A recent study clocked them in at .92 percent. This is dismal compared to the average of 3.41 percent on desktop.
Looking solely at those numbers might encourage some businesses to question why they should be investing more time and money into mobile. The answer lies in the consumer behavior.
Customers are using their mobile internet activity for different things. For example, shoppers who use their smartphones before or during a shopping experience in a brick-and-mortar store are actually 40 percent more likely to buy than those who did not use these devices.
These differences in usage also stretch across different industries. At BrightEdge, we tracked engagement rates for mobile and desktop across different industries such as retail, insurance, B2B technology, manufacturing and hospitality.
We found that engagement rates for some industries, such as retail, were abysmal — around only eight percent for mobile. This number starts to make sense, however, when you consider that customers are likely to use their smart devices to access a retailer’s page when they are interested in quick bits of information, such as a phone number, store hours or the location of the nearest store.
This type of usage might register low engagement, but it is still critical for brand success. A poorly designed website that does not easily offer users this critical information can quickly lose sales as shoppers just move on to the next option that addresses their needs.
Optimizing your site for mobile requires taking a careful look at what your mobile users are likely to want to see and designing the page to fit those needs. You will want to focus on developing task-centered content and ensuring that the page layout is easy for users to interact with while on a small mobile screen.
This means paying attention to simple things, like not making buttons too close together. If you also have a goal of directing mobile visitors toward a brick-and-mortar store, then do not overlook the value of using local keywords and SEO to attract this specific audience.
Loading times can also be critical for mobile devices. Almost half of mobile users expect websites to load in two seconds or less, and the longer a page takes to load, the lower your engagement will be. Up to 40 percent will abandon a page that takes more than three seconds to load. So minimize parts of your page, such as graphics and unnecessary scripts, that slow down loading times.
It is also important to remember that users on mobile are as much as two times more likely to share content than those on desktop. If your site has missing or hard-to-use social sharing buttons, you could be missing major opportunities for engagement and reach. Make sure that the content produced for your mobile site is ready to be shared across the social platforms.
Do Not Neglect App Store Optimization
A huge part of the mobile experience can also be found in the app store. Forty-two percent of mobile sales from the leading 500 merchants came through mobile apps. An estimated 60K apps are added on iTunes each month, and 50K are added on Google Play.
To get your app to stand out from this crowd, you need to focus primarily on the user experience. Customers use apps because they want an easier way to access what your brand has to offer, so the design of the app should always focus on the user.
The app should also be easy to find, meaning that full descriptions that contain relevant keywords are important. Just like any other search engine, the search functions in the app stores need to show the most helpful content to users.
To help improve your rankings, watch ratings, correct any problems and use language that users are likely to employ when searching.
Seven Ways To Win In Mobile Search & Content In 2016
- Understand. Know what your customers are doing on mobile and what they will want to see on your site. Look at customer behavior on your existing mobile site and compare it to behavior on desktop and in stores. See how the mobile site is influencing buying decisions and the pages that mobile users are most frequently visiting. Use your buyer personas for more research into what your visitors are likely to look for on your page.
- Target. Use this information to construct a site layout that takes into account mobile user behavior. For many sites, this will mean prominently featuring information such as store hours, organizing content so that it fits nicely in an accordion menu or adding click-to-call buttons so that customers can get in touch with the brand easily.
- Create. Create action-oriented and local content that will benefit mobile users. These consumers are interested in action. They are looking for an address, a phone number or information to make a purchase. By putting out content that helps to encourage this decisive behavior, you can move more customers towards conversion. As you develop this content, do not neglect the power of local in SEO efforts, particularly if one of the goals of your site is to drive more people toward a brick-and-mortar store. When creating a site, also take into account best practices like load time. Check your pages for any unnecessary images or scripts that could slow down the amount of time it takes for your page to load. While images do add value to your page, having too many can increase your load time, so always carefully gauge the value of any “extras” you put on the page.
- Engage. Accordion menus are incredibly popular for mobile devices because of their ability to keep information organized and make it easy for mobile users to navigate. Remember these menu goals and work to organize your content to fit this arrangement. It will make your content easier to find and enjoy for those on mobile devices, thereby increasing engagement rates. Also, never forget the social nature of mobile phones. Make your content easy to share to take advantage of this phenomenon. The more your content is shared and explored, the better you will perform in SERPs.
- Convert. As your efforts begin to bring in new customers, your engaging content should encourage conversions. Remember that task-oriented content can be very helpful in driving customers towards hitting the “buy” button or visiting you in a store.
- Monitor. You should always keep a careful eye on your mobile site to see how well your content and design are meeting your goals. If you see higher-than-average bounce rates for a particular page, for example, look for differences that might be turning away customers.
- Measure. Employ mobile metrics to watch how customers are interacting with your mobile site and how it influences customer behavior across all channels. Remember that customers might shop on their mobile devices and finish their purchase in stores or on a desktop. Look at your conversions, your Share of Voice and similar factors that help you gain a good look at the big picture.
Mobile has taken the world by storm, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down. The year 2016 will see even more mobile growth as people recognize the convenience of using these devices to access the web and participate in mobile commerce.
Location-based marketing and mobile payments will be a key feature in mobile strategy in 2016. Brands that want to remain competitive need to optimize their sites, track performance and make sure their mobile strategy, not just site, is ready today.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.